Airbus is flying three airliners here, but a fourth that might have been on display remains on the ground at Toulouse. That is the A330neo, whose Trent 7000 engines have only just been dispatched by Rolls-Royce from its Derby, UK factory, many months late. Meanwhile, show visitors will see the A321neo and A350-1000 making airborne debuts. Both types are in the certification flight testing phase. The “flagship” A380 will also be shown, both flying and static.
The delayed first flight of the A330neo is now scheduled for the end of the summer, Didier Evrard, head of programs for Airbus Commercial Aircraft, told journalists at a media briefing in Toulouse on June 9. Two prototypes are fully assembled, but won’t have their powerplants fitted until Safran—also at Toulouse—fits nacelles to the Trent 7000s. “Rolls-Royce is a bit late, but their bench-test results are good,” added Fabrice Bregier, president of Airbus Commercial Aircraft. Airbus now plans to make the first A330neo delivery from Toulouse in mid-2018.
Supply chain problems in the A350 program are now under control, although some quality issues remain, according to Bregier. There are now 86 A350-900s in service with 12 operators, and operational reliability has been excellent, he claimed. “We will reach our target of 99 percent by the end of 2017—the fastest time to achieve that standard of any widebody. We are on course to achieve a production rate of 10 per month by the end of 2018,” he added.
The A350-1000 flying here is one of three prototypes now flying. They are close to achieving the planned 1,000 flight test hours. Those hours have included a cold-weather test campaign in Canada, followed by high-altitude airfield performance tests in Bolivia. Last month, 300 Airbus employees flew as passengers on a long-range test flight that was cabin-crewed by Virgin Atlantic. Evrard said that the overall performance of the A350-1000 is as expected. Bregier said that certification would be achieved by late summer, and first delivery at the end of the year.
But there is only one customer—Asiana—for the smaller A350-800. Evrard told AIN that Airbus was discussing alternative options with the carrier, which has ordered eight. As for the projected larger version, dubbed the A350-1100, Evrard said it was “a possibility but not a priority.”
Airbus delivered 28 A380s last year, but continues to reduce the production rate of its largest airliner towards just one per month next year. The company believes that this will economically sustain availability until demand for the A380 picks up, early in the next decade. That will happen because traffic continues to grow at a rate that will impact landing and takeoff slots at an increasing number of airports, Evrard said. “There are limits to the point-to-point approach,” he said, adding that according to Airbus calculations, a carrier can profitably operate the A380 even if with only a small fleet.
Bregier said that there was “no business case” for an A380neo, but added that fitting winglets was “a good possibility.” He said that the company is now concentrating on promoting cabin innovations for the A380 that will offer up to 80 more seats, and thus achieve “very competitive” seat-mile costs. The gains in capacity come from relocating and redesigning the forward stair (up to 20 seats); adding an aft-galley stair module (14 seats); going to an 11-abreast configuration in economy (23 seats) and nine-abreast in premium economy (11 seats); and removing the sidewall stowage on the upper deck (six seats). Airbus will be explaining the various new A380 configurations to potential customers in its pavilion at the end of Chalet Row A here.
Airbus has a huge, 5,500-strong backlog for the A320 family (including more than 5,000 Neos). New aircraft ordered today cannot be delivered before 2021, Bregier said. The current production rate is 50 per month. Airbus plans to increase this to a record 60 per month by mid-2019. The fourth final assembly line in Hamburg will start soon (the others are in Mobile, Tianjin and Toulouse). According to Evrard, Airbus has made “a huge transformation” in production processes for its narrow-body airliners.
But although 116 A320/A321neos have now been delivered to 25 operators, there have been problems with their new-technology engines from alternative suppliers Pratt & Whitney and CFM International. But P&W is solving its PW1000G development issues, and CFM is catching up on LEAP-1A production delays, according to Bregier. When asked about the recent inflight shut-down incident in India, Evrard said the cause was understood, could be fixed, and there were “no certification issues.” The A321neo flying here is fitted with the CFM powerplants.
Virtual reality is the big theme of the Airbus pavilion here, this time (Static Display C4). The company promises to “convey an improved experience” of its products by using the latest digital immersive and interactive display technologies.